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Singer honors brother, from sea to shining sea

When Kristy Kruger heard the news her brother, Lt. Col. Eric Kruger, was killed in Iraq in November, her life changed in ways she could never imagine.

Through the disbelief and grief, the singer/songwriter found a purpose and a mission.

On Jan. 12, in the family's hometown of Dallas, Kruger performed a memorial concert on what would have been her brother's 41st birthday. From that horrible day, something wonderful happened.

"I gave this performance and it was so healing," said the 31-year-old artist. "I had this idea that came to me. He died serving this country and I really didn't want his death to be in vain. I thought the greatest way I could honor him was to see the whole country, to see every state in the union. I want to really see and appreciate what he died for."

So Kruger quit her day job, put her belongings in storage and hopped in her car. Since then, she has toured 10 states, with the goal of playing in all 50 in memory of her brother.

Kruger plays acoustic Americana infused with traditional jazz and country from the 1920s-40s. The classically trained performer studied music at the University of Southern California. Her sound is timeless yet modern, mixing moody melodies with quirky sensibilities.

Through her travels on her memorial tour, Kruger has sought to connect with other Gold Star families (those who have lost immediate family members in the military) to perform shows in honor of their loved ones. The first such show will be for Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Gage of Modesto.

The show will be at 9 p.m. Saturday at Modesto's Tresetti's World Caffé, 927 11th St. Call 572-2990 for more information.

Gage was killed in the same attack as Kruger's brother.

"This is a really special show for me," she said. "For this to be the family that got the news on the same day that my family did, the family whose whole life was changed on the same day as my family, was important."

Her shows are intentionally nonpolitical. She makes no statements about the war, instead honoring her brother and celebrating his life. She plans to do the same for Gage's memorial concert. "I don't care which way people voted or how people feel about the war," she said. "It has become this very personal thing and a beautiful statement about loss."

But she stressed that the shows aren't downers, either. She intersperses her performance with humorous anecdotes and the spirit of her brother. "When I first set out to do this, I just wanted people to know about my brother," she said. "I wanted to tell stories about him. My brother was a very vibrant, funny person. If my shows were too depressing, he would have been the first person to leave the room."

The show will be free and open to the public. Kruger keeps her costs down by finding host families in each town and, essentially, living out of her car. A donation jar is passed around during the show. Half of all her proceeds go toward a charity. At shows for her brother, the money goes toward Fisher House, an organization that help military families. For shows for other fallen soldiers, the proceeds will go toward the family's charity of choice.

"It's been the worst, most traumatic year, yet at the same time the most beautiful year of my life," she said. "After Eric was killed from a violent act, it was easy for me to think the world was just an awful place. But I needed to go out and find for myself that the world was still a beautiful place filled with lots of wonderful people."

Find out more at www.kristykruger.com.

Elsewhere around the Scene:

Two big announcements from local radio this week.

First, B93.1 FM is bringing singer/actress Mandy Moore to Modesto for a Music Café show at noon July 12 at Hero's Sports Lounge & Pizza Company.

Moore shot to fame in 1999 with her teen pop hit "Candy." Now 23, Moore continues to sing and act. Her films include "A Walk to Remember," "Saved!" and the just-released "License to Wed." Her music has matured, too, with her latest release "Wild Hope," which came out last month.

The public can win tickets to the limited-seating show through B93.1 FM at 551-9393 or www.b931.com. Read more on Moore in Monday's LifeStyles section of The Bee. ...

And finally, classic-rock fans rejoice. The Hawk 104.1 FM is back to full strength. In December, the station's tower was knocked over by high wind. Since then, the channel has gone out at a lower power. Now, the station is back to its 50,000 watts. Tune in and enjoy.

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached atmrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284. Read her blog SceneIt at thehive.modbee.com/sceneit.

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